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  • James Rutherford

'Les Misérables': A Palpable and Indelible Depiction of Urban Warfare in Modern Day France


Movie poster for Les Misérables (2019)

Les Misérables (2019) is a palpable urban crime thriller set in the city of Montfermeil, on the outskirts of Paris, in the days following France's victory in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The storyline follows young officer Stéphane (Damien Bonnard) as he joins Paris' anti-crime brigade and is teamed with volatile squad leader Chris (Alexis Manenti) and complacent brigadier Gwada (Djebril Zonga).


Assigned to Montfermeil's crime-ridden housing projects, Stéphane and his counterparts are summoned by local civic leader "The Mayor" (Steve Tientcheu) to intervene in a growing dispute between the local Islamic community and gypsies from a traveling circus. The gypsies are incensed by the theft of a lion club by a local youth named Issa (Issa Perica)—the robbery becoming the inciting event for rapidly escalating conflict separating the two sides. When violence between the officers and Issa's companions is subsequently captured by a drone camera, it becomes a race against time for Stéphane, Chris and Gwada to intercept the footage before it is posted online—thereby threatening the safety of the entire police brigade.


Co-written and directed by French filmmaker Ladj Ly, Les Misérables is a searing depiction of social unrest and malfeasance by members of the gendarmerie. Borrowing its title from Victor Hugo's historical novel, also based in Montfermeil, Ly has crafted a piercing analogy contrasting the commune of Montfermeil of the 1800's and that of today—illuminating the ongoing struggle of France's most impoverished citizens. Tense, increasingly frenetic and bound by questions of moral imperative, it's one of most indelible products of French cinema in the 21st Century.

 

Watch the trailer:


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